Jun 6, 2023
Heather Arabitg’s love for the profession shines through her commitment
Wesley Sykes, managing editor

Since high school, Heather Arabitg knew she wanted to be a physical therapist. An avid soccer player at an all-girls high school, she was introduced to the idea of athletic training by her soccer coach. 

“My soccer coach said to me, ‘You play soccer, you love sports, and you live emergency medicine. Why aren’t you going to school for athletic training,’” said Arabitg, heath athletic trainer and senior women’s administrator at Caldwell University. 

arabitgHer school didn’t employ an athletic trainer at the time, but she quickly found that the athletic training profession checked all the boxes of how she wanted to spend her time. 

“It took all the things I was truly in love with at the time and put them together,” she said. “So I decided to go to King’s [College] and get into the program. And I’ve loved it ever since.” 

It’s been said that when you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. And even with the long days that come with being an athletic trainer, that mindset has allowed Arabitg to excel at her position.  

Megan Bratkovich, assistant athletic director at Caldwell University, describes Arabitg’s presence within the NCAA Division II athletic program as ”instrumental” in terms of organizational structure and developing upgrades for her department. 

Her love for the profession and dedication to helping others is just one of the reasons Arabitg stands out as Training & Conditioning’s 2023 Most Valuable Collegiate Athletic Trainer of the Year.

Prominent Projects

As a leader in the school’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), Arabitg embraced the notion of not just being a student, and not just being an athlete, but taking those experiences and putting them forth towards community service. 

“Community service is very important to me,” she said. 

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Arabitg was looking to get her student-athletes reengaged with the local community. That’s where the Jared Box Project came into view. 

For more than 20 years Jared Boxes have delivered countless smiles, laughter, and hope to children in hospitals across the country. Jared Boxes are a great way for individuals, schools, or organizations to bring the gift of play through toys in a box to young patients as they navigate through their hospital experience.

She decided to take the money raised from their annual gift basket auction during ‘Super Saturday’ — roughly $1,500 — and used it to buy kids toys. The SAAC group put together about 70 boxes of toys, separated by age and gender, each complete with a handwritten note from a student-athlete to the receiving child at a nearby hospital. 

“The notes had positive messages to the kids,” Arabitg said. “I think our student-athletes responded really well to it and I think it was good for our community.”

The project was noticed by the NCAA and made her and the university finalists for this year’s NCAA Division II Acts of Excellence award. The group previously earned the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference’s Community Engagement Award for the same project.

She also planned for a large-scale event to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Title IX with about 375 people in attendance. The event held an educational panel for student-athletes that highlighted powerful women and the role Title IX has played in their careers as well as a recognition ceremony for the top influential student-athletes, coaches, and administrators in the history of Caldwell University women’s sports.

“I was humbled to be one of the women honored and Im really proud of this program we put on,” she said. 

Leading From the Front

Arabitg is described by those around the Caldwell athletic department as a “mother hen,” devoting the same attention and care to more than 370 NCAA Division II student-athletes. 

“Heather makes innumerable personal sacrifices as a mother would for her child,” Bratkovich said. 

In her time as the head athletic trainer, Caldwell has added seven sports with more than 130 student-athletes, meaning there was an increased strain on her staff of four ATCs. Arabitg takes on extra shifts, sacrificing time with her own family, in order to not put the burden of burnout on her staff, according to Bratkovich. 

She also encourages her staff to seek continuing education opportunities. Bratkovich pointed out that half of her staff recently attended the Eastern Athletic Trainers’ Association convention while she stayed on campus to cover practices. 

“I’ve always been good at being behind the scenes,” Arabitg said. “So the transition to a leadership position was a little difficult for me. But I hope they watch me do the thing I love and continue to do that in their lives in their own way.” 

Part of that transition included leading the school’s COVID-19 Return To Campus Task Force and earning the Mission in Action Award in 2021 from Caldwell. 

“That was a great opportunity to show that athletic trainers and healthcare professionals can be flexible and navigate things other than orthopedic-type injuries,” she said. “There are so many things that athletic trainers can do. I want [future] athletic trainers to find their way and I want them to grow in their profession.”

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